Family warns of carbon monoxide danger after close call with generator

Published: Aug. 2, 2023 at 8:07 PM EDT
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ST. ALBANS, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Storms knocked out power to hundreds of customers last week. When generators kicked on, the power inside one family’s home caused them to go unresponsive.

One of the last things Tom Nichols remembers is waking up in the emergency room. He tried to call 911 when his wife yelled about a splitting headache and became unresponsive.

“Friday, we lost power and the generator kicked on around four,” Nichols said.

The next thing Nichols knew, he woke up in St. Mary’s Medical Center, and doctors were shocked that the amount of carbon monoxide measured did not kill him and his family.

“Very emotional thinking about what could have happened ... the doctors at St. Mary’s told me they don’t know how we were probably here,” Nichols said.

He said normally the generator runs about 30 minutes to an hour, but when the power went off, it stayed on for nearly 20 hours.

Nichols, his wife and son went to sleep, and only his son woke up to a call from from Tom Nichols’ Funeral Home where his dad was suppose to be at 7 a.m.

Administrators asked where Nichols was, and that is when his son, unusually, saw the truck outside. Having carbon monoxide poisoning himself, he sprang into action to save his parents.

“He saw my wife laying in the door and went and drug her out and called 911 as he was going to turn off the generator,” Nichols said.

St. Albans Fire Marshal Chris Collins said more and more of these cases are popping up as people buy more generators.

“If exhaust is not being dissipated properly and it finds a way to make it into the house, then you have the potential to have a carbon monoxide emergency,” Collins said.

He said in city limits he’s seen cases of generators installed by contractors that have been placed close to a dryer vent, near the eaves of a home -- too close, according to the manual.

“We have had them installed too close to the house. We have seen them put fences up beside the generator which causes the exhaust to bake off the fence and go up through the eaves and get into the house,” Collins said.

Collins urges people to read the manual of whole-house generators. When they are being installed, install carbon monoxide alarms on every level of a home and in spaces outside the bedroom to detect gas before it reaches to sleeping spaces.

Nichols said his home did not have properly working carbon monoxide detectors. Now, his entire home has seven carbon monoxide detectors, he is getting the year-old generator inspected and moved to another area of his home.

Collins said the St. Albans Fire Dept. will install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors for free.

Following are more tips from Collins about generators:

Carbon Monoxide 1
Carbon Monoxide 1(St Albans Fire Dept.)
Carbon Monoxide 2
Carbon Monoxide 2(St. Albans Fire Dept.)